Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, (second from left) and other regional leaders, Prime Minister of St.Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda and Roosevelt Skerritt of Dominica, at the press conference to discuss plans for LIAT. Also pictured are: from left, Chairman of LIAT, Dr. Jean Holder and Chief Executive Officer Ian Brunton (far right). Today’s meeting was held at the Hilton Barbados. (A.Miller/BGIS)??

The Government of Barbados has pledged to continue supporting the operations of regional air carrier LIAT.

This was stressed by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, following a meeting of LIAT’s major stakeholders, the prime ministers of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, Baldwin Spencer of Antigua and Barbuda, and newest shareholder, the Government of Dominica, represented by Roosevelt Skerrit. Today’s discussions took place at the Hilton Barbados.

In outlining the way forward for the airline, of which Barbados is a major shareholder, Mr. Stuart noted that this country was committed to the efficient functioning of LIAT and that his administration would make sure that opportunities for wastage were minismised???? and that the airline remained viable.

"And, it can only remain viable if it is financed, and Barbados, therefore, has had no difficulty in committing itself to that course of action. So, as the largest shareholder at the present time we felt that it was our duty to live up to our regional obligations and we are doing just that," he added.

Expressing satisfaction with today’s proceedings, the Prime Minister said that???? it was "consistent with Barbados’ interests".?? He continued: "LIAT, over the last 56 years has contributed in no small way to the deepening of the regional integration movement, making regional integration not an abstraction but a lived experience for the people of the Caribbean.

"And, since Barbados has always been in the forefront of promoting regional integration, of course we have a natural attachment to LIAT and its success. So, I approached today’s discussions in that context, and have been satisfied with the way the discussions have gone. I am aware of course, that the average age of the LIAT fleet is about 20 years – LIAT has an enviable safety record, but we cannot push our luck too far in that regard. We cannot tempt the gods."

Against this background, Mr. Stuart disclosed that the airline would get additional aircraft, "sensibly over a period of time, so that we can keep interests in LIAT as high as possible and reinforce the faith of the people of this region in the airline".

He acknowledged that at the moment the region was "going through very, very difficult times financially" and there were some budgetary constraints.

However, he said, that in reality, CARICOM was the third largest source market for Barbados’ tourism and LIAT was instrumental in facilitating the arrival of tourists here …"We cannot haggle over figures indefinitely and lose sight of that very stubborn reality," he stressed.

In relation to the airline’s business plan, Prime Minister Gonsalves noted that it was necessary for it to expand its network and to go into areas "we not have gone [into] before".

He added: "LIAT is a huge industry and we are on target with renewal and expansion and we have to come again to the Board… looking at strategic partners in that regard." He noted that shareholders had "bitten the bullet" in order to ensure that the carrier remained a viable service and gave the assurance that "tremendous progress" was being made in terms of improved service for the region.

Today’s meeting was called to examine proposals to improve the viability of LIAT as a regional air transportation service and to map out a plan for its sustainability in the long-term. The subject of air and sea transportation is expected to be raised at the next meeting of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community.

LIAT travels to 21 destinations in the region and has 1,000 flights weekly.


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